Mock draft 2.0: Which MCWS standout goes No. 1 to the Pirates?

The 2023 MLB draft is just a few weeks away, and it’s time for my second mock draft projecting the first 40 picks of this year’s event.

This is usually the time when my mock drafts are most accurate — teams have been in meetings for a couple of weeks, settling where they stand on players and communicating it to agents. The draft ecosystem is finding equilibrium. From here until the draft, plenty of what I hear is recycled rumors or intentional nonsense as teams coordinate messaging to suit their ends.

So even though you’ll get another version of this mock just before the draft (Watch: Sunday, July 9, at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN), this version could well be as accurate as my mocks get (and I’d wager that’s true for the other ones you might read as well). Ahead of the final game of an electric Men’s College World Series — one that has featured all of the players I expect to go in the top three picks — let’s jump into it.

Mock draft 1.0 | MLB draft rankings 2.0: Top 160

Paul Skenes, RHP, LSU

I’d forgive you if you claim I’m just trying to put all five of the top tier of players at the top pick in various mocks and then be able to claim I was right. I’m not! It just worked out that the first mini-mock had Dylan Crews here, the first full mock had Max Clark here, and now I have Skenes. (For what it’s worth, I only judge myself off the last mock.)

Let me try to explain my thinking and the industry buzz on this one — and I’ll be careful not to make any of this sound more concrete than it is. There’s a belief from those plugged into the Pirates pick that the Crews camp will not be willing to take whatever is offered at the first pick. Some describe it as “not interested,” some as “maybe just a negotiation ploy.” There’s a spectrum of how to take this since it’s just indications and bluster and posturing — but I’ve been hearing since February that the Pirates have been aggressively looking into the non-Crews options, even after it became clear he was the consensus best prospect. Even when you’re planning to take the best player, those can be smart things to do — a combination of due diligence and spreading rumors to maybe get his price down — so I assumed until recently that’s what was happening.

I’m now under the impression that Crews would cost full slot or more if taken first, and I think that’s what Pittsburgh has generally believed all spring. There’s still a case from some in the industry to take Crews, because he’s clearly the best prospect, but there’s also a case that these five guys are pretty close in talent level and a seven-figure savings of draft pool money on top of a near coin flip on talent is a compelling proposition. Option 2 also happens to align with the way Pittsburgh has treated this sort of situation in the past, taking clear top-tier talent Henry Davis in 2020 over the consensus two top players (Marcelo Mayer and Jordan Lawlar).

Last year, the Orioles’ bonus slot for the No. 1 pick was $8.84 million; the team gave Jackson Holliday the draft’s top bonus at $8.19 million (Druw Jones was close behind, at $8.189 million). In 2021, Jack Leiter got the draft’s biggest haul from the No. 2 spot (behind Davis) at $7.92 million; in 2020, Spencer Torkelson got full slot at 1-1 for $8.42 million and Adley Rutschman got a bit less than slot at $8.1 million in 2019. This year the slots are significantly higher: $9.72 million at pick No. 1, $8.99 million at No. 2, $8.34 million at No. 3 and $7.69 million at No. 4. What that means is that Pittsburgh could take Crews and offer a bonus of $8.5 million, a precedent-setting tally — yet also more than $1.2 million under slot. It’s a fair offer by some measures, but it’s one with which I think the Crews camp wouldn’t be happy.

If the Nationals — at No. 2 — would do whatever they needed to to get Crews to their pick, including going over their slot, let’s say to $9.25 million, that still wouldn’t really impair their ability to spend at later picks. Toss in being a big-market team that has drafted major stars (and stars from this agency) before, and you can see how a couple of phone calls could make the Crews camp more interested in the team most motivated to get him among the top few picks, rather than simply focusing on going first and taking what’s offered. If you’re Crews’ representative and you have $9.25 million waiting at the second pick — your preferred spot in general — what would you ask Pittsburgh for? At least $9.5 million, maybe full slot at $9.72 million — maybe just say $10 million? See, it all fits together nicely, provided you think this is something like what’s been happening behind the scenes.

Now if the Pirates do draft him, and Crews isn’t happy with the figure — you might ask whether Crews would really scoff at going first. Does he want to go back to school and take on more personal risk, delay MLB free agency by a year and hope to get what would amount to less than $1 million more — and maybe get less — just on principle? I don’t think he wants to do that, and it wouldn’t be that bad — he wouldn’t fall out of the first few picks no matter what happens — but look at it from Pittsburgh’s perspective. If Pittsburgh doesn’t sign the top pick, it’s a huge, immediate PR hit. It might mess up some later overslot selections this year, thus it would mean losing out on a player since it drafted planning based on signing the top pick. The compensation would be the second pick next year, but this is the best draft in a decade and next year looks just OK. Not signing the top pick in a loaded draft and getting the second-best player in a much lesser draft a year later just as the rebuild is showing fruit is an all-caps DISASTER for Pittsburgh. Would you want to take that risk or cut a sure-thing deal for a comparable player?

So if we acknowledge that Crews is unlikely (but possible), Walter Jenkins is very unlikely (he has the same adviser as Crews), and Clark (whom Pittsburgh really likes, more than some other clubs) is a real option, I think the two most likely are Wyatt Langford and Paul Skenes. I think Pittsburgh is lying in the weeds on Langford, and he’s a real possibility. But I think Skenes makes the most sense.

The premise of the Henry Davis decision was to get a good, safe, pretty-quick-to-the-majors type with some upside and bank some money for shots down the board. Skenes is advised by the same group that advised Davis and could very well be pitching in Pittsburgh this season — in games that might still matter! The Pirates can get his feet wet for a month in the minors, limit him to two or three innings at a time, keep his prospect eligibility alive and get that comp pick when he’s Rookie of the Year next season. Langford will not be in the big leagues that quickly. While pitchers come with inherent risk, Skenes is about as unique a proposition as we’ve seen in some time; I think his worst comp is Jameson Taillon‘s career, with a chance to be on the David Price/Stephen Strasburg/Gerrit Cole tier. I’m now willing to say that I think Dylan Crews is an underdog versus the field to go 1-1.

Dylan Crews, CF, LSU

That dissertation lands us here with the second pick. I believe the Nationals’ draft board is Crews, then Skenes — with no one else even being considered — so this will be an easy call.

Wyatt Langford, LF, Florida

There’s a strong belief that Detroit’s new regime wants a college bat, so the real question is: What will it do if Langford goes first and Crews goes second? I think Skenes would be a real option, but there’s also a curveball here that’s worth mentioning. When asking execs picking high which player/pick outside of the consensus top group is most likely to break into the top five, the answer was Virginia catcher Kyle Teel here to Detroit. I’d say that has a 5-10% chance of happening, but if the two top bats go first and Detroit is committed to a college hitter no matter what, that’s the direction I think it will go.

Max Clark, CF, Franklin Community HS (Indiana)

I’ve been going back and forth between Jenkins and Clark here in the scenario that the college guys make up the top three picks. I had Jenkins here the past two mocks, and I’m still not sure where I’ll settle. Texas has been heavily looking at prep bats, and unless Langford gets here (unlikely but possible; if so, he stops here) or Crews gets here (another under 10% but greater than 0% chance dark horse), I think the Rangers pick one of these two prep bats.

Walker Jenkins, RF, South Brunswick HS (North Carolina)

It’ll be hard to mock anyone else here except for the last remaining of the top five talents, but there is some buzz on other guys at this pick. Jacob Gonzalez is the most likely option, and he’s in play on every pick from here down to about 11. I know the Twins love prep righty Noble Meyer, as do several other teams, but I’m not sure any of them love him enough to pick a prep righty in the top 10.

Brayden Taylor, 3B, TCU

I’m hearing all college bats here, and Taylor has been visited by a number of Oakland heavy hitters down the stretch. The other options are Gonzalez, Jacob Wilson and Teel. I think Taylor, Teel and Gonzalez will all go in this 6-11 range; Wilson has a real chance to slide further and should provide the most savings.

Kyle Teel, C, Virginia

I’m hearing Cincinnati would like to do another well-above-slot first pick this year — like their Cam Collier deal last year — and is trying to get one of the top five talents to this pick. I don’t think Oakland would be willing to go there financially, so if someone slides out of the top five, don’t be surprised to see him slide to seven for a payday, especially if it’s a high school player (Clark or Jenkins) with added leverage. As is, Cincy is picking from this second cut of talent and its usual preferences still apply — power arms, power bats, catchers — which also points to the names I’ve heard there: Teel, Chase Dollander, Arjun Nimmala, Meyer, Mitchell.

Blake Mitchell, C, Sinton HS (Texas)

I’m hearing the Royals have already narrowed down their list considerably. Meyer is again in play, but any prep righty at this pick will be a tough sell to ownership. I’m also hearing the Royals are in on Mitchell and TCU’s Taylor. Mitchell has some interest in the top 10 but also might fall into the early 20s, so this could be a solid cut to set up later picks akin to the Frank Mozzicato deal in 2021 (although the savings wouldn’t be quite that high).

Rhett Lowder, RHP, Wake Forest

I’m convinced the Rockies will go pitcher here, and the other options (Dollander, Meyer, Hurston Waldrep) all throw four-seamers, which the Rockies almost dogmatically stay away from in the draft. If he doesn’t go here, Lowder won’t fall far below the next few picks. Enrique Bradfield Jr., Teel, Taylor and Mitchell were also targets down the stretch for Colorado’s heavy hitters.

Jacob Gonzalez, SS, Ole Miss

Gonzalez could well go fifth or sixth, so this is near the bottom of his range. I think Miami is another team that loves Meyer but is looking more at hitters, which happens to be what the board is giving them. Matt Shaw, Wilson and Colin Houck are the other leading options.

Enrique Bradfield Jr., CF, Vanderbilt

I think the Angels are banking on getting a quicker-moving college type from this second tier of talent. I think they’d take Lowder or Gonzalez if either of them gets here; Bradfield should move similarly quickly.

Chase Dollander, RHP, Tennessee

Dollander’s up-and-down season is leaving clubs with more questions than answers. The buzz has shifted from him as a potential 1-1 to possibly falling out of the top 10, maybe even behind red-hot Waldrep. In truth, I think Dollander’s range starts as high as No. 7 to Cincinnati and probably ends around here, or maybe at No. 15 to the White Sox. Arizona is in play on the second cut of prep hitters (Nimmala, Houck) and has been tied to a few college bats (Wilson, high water for Nolan Schanuel). This is around the point of the draft where the person making the pick needs this many options, given the uncertainty in picks six through 11.

Arjun Nimmala, SS, Strawberry Crest HS (Florida)

Nimmala, the youngest of the prep position players, has been wowing teams in private workouts, consistently posting the best exit velos and with probably the best shot to stick at shortstop of those players, as well. The Cubs are rumored to be on that train of thought and have proved they don’t mind some risk in young hitters if it comes with upside. I think they want to pick a hitter here, but I wonder whether Meyer, Dollander or Waldrep will interest them — they all have traits the Cubs have sought.

Matt Shaw, 2B, Maryland

I think the Red Sox are looking for a college bat here to follow with some overslot prep position players at later picks — their basic blueprint in the past few drafts. Wth Shaw, Tommy Troy, Wilson and Schanuel all still on the board, they get their pick of this demographic.

Tommy Troy, 3B, Stanford

I also think the White Sox are kicking the tires on the prep bats here (Houck, Mitchell and Aidan Miller are mentioned most) and would consider Dollander and Meyer. But ultimately, I guess they’ll do what they tend to have done in the past and get a safer college type up top. This is also probably Yohandy Morales’ first real landing spot.

Noble Meyer, RHP, Jesuit HS (Oregon)

Meyer slides a bit, but someone has to — and all things being equal, prep righties are the demographic to bet on doing the sliding. I think this is about as low as Meyer will go, unless a team that cut up top is trying to float him down the board, which would be an incredible coup. I’m also hearing a lot of college bats at this pick, so I’m mostly expecting the Shaw/Troy/Wilson group to go in this area unless a great value presents itself.

Hurston Waldrep, RHP, Florida

Under GM Mike Elias, the highest the Orioles have drafted and signed a pitcher is the fifth round (they didn’t sign last year’s third-round pick, Nolan McLean). They’re in on Waldrep, though, as well as the bats who fit their power-first-but-with-some-range approach to the draft: Houck, Miller, Davis and Nimmala.

Jacob Wilson, SS, Grand Canyon

Milwaukee has been in my corner of late, taking the falling contact-first, up-the-middle college hitters I tend to rank higher than the industry: Sal Frelick, Tyler Black and Eric Brown. Again, Wilson could go in the top 10, so he’d be a great fit here for value as well as type; I’d imagine his slide would stop here or with Cleveland at No. 23.

Colin Houck, 3B, Parkview HS (Georgia)

The Rays are thought to be looking at the prep bats who might make it to this pick, with Houck and local boy Aidan Miller among the options. The Rays also aren’t scared to take a prep righty high, so Meyer could be an option if he makes it here.

Dillon Head, CF, Homewood Flossmoor HS (Illinois)

Head has been tied to the Jays for a while, with this pick and No. 25 to San Diego as the most likely landing spots. I think Toronto is still pretty open to other demographics, but I’m hearing mostly prep bats here, which also seem to be what will be on the board.

Nolan Schanuel, 1B, Florida Atlantic

Schanuel has garnered some interest in the 10-20 area but probably fits better around here. He’s really backed into a corner in his profile as a mid-major type whose future is probably first-base-only. But he also posted one of the highest OPS figures in the history of college baseball, and some scouts think he’s an easy plus at everything in the batter’s box. Lots of teams think this will be the Cardinals’ pick if he gets here.

Aidan Miller, 3B, Mitchell HS (Florida)

After the early success of Cole Young, Harry Ford and Edwin Arroyo, I think the Mariners likely feel as if they have a hot hand with prep position players. There frankly are too many prep infielders who belong around here for them all to fit, so I think Seattle likely will take the one who squeezes through the teens, then maybe float another down the board to one of its comp picks. Kevin McGonigle fits the bill as a prep infielder who gets floated down by either Seattle or the somewhat local Pirates (he’s from Pennsylvania) if they indeed don’t take Crews first. Thomas White is the other hot name who could be floated down the board if he gets past about No. 15, akin to Brock Porter last year. Prep righty Josh Knoth fits the Mariners like a glove, a young Matt Brash type whose outcome could look more like Lance McCullers Jr. Electric prep lefty Alex Clemmey is somewhat similar — and, no surprise, is also a target. Whichever route the M’s choose, I project that I’ll like what they do on Day 1.

Chase Davis, LF, Arizona

Davis, Morales and Brock Wilken all figure to go in this range as different versions of power-first college position players on the corner. I think Cleveland will be value-minded and scoop up whoever (and there will be someone, if not a few options) lasts longer than expected for no good reason. I have also heard Colt Emerson as the most likely of the various prep position players to get to this pick.

Yohandy Morales, 3B, Miami

I don’t think Davis (left fielder), Wilken (trending toward first baseman) or Bryce Eldridge (first baseman) fits the Braves profile — they need some defensive value in their high picks. Morales’ weakness this season was pitch selection, a more teachable skill than bat speed, raw power or feel for contact. George Lombard Jr. and Emerson also fit the Braves’ type.

Bryce Eldridge, 1B/RHP, James Madison HS (Virginia)

Six-foot-7 Eldridge wants to play both ways in pro ball and not every team has him evaluated that way, so he seems like a candidate to go a bit later than I have him ranked (mid-first-rounder as a first baseman, solid second-rounder as a pitcher) to a team excited to hand out an overslot bonus and give this a try. Tampa Bay and San Diego are most rumored to be interested in him. Dillon is also tied to this slot, and I’d say value shopping for whoever is falling is the vibe here.

Sammy Stafura, SS, Walter Panas HS (New York)

I’ll stick with Stafura here, as has been long rumored, but I think this rumor is so often repeated that the Yanks aren’t getting tied to many other players by rival scouts. Maybe they’ll take my advice and land a precedent-shattering draft haul? Would Hal Steinbrenner allow such a bold move?

George Lombard Jr., SS, Gulliver Prep HS (Florida)

The Phillies like to take a swing on prep players with their first pick — to solid results of late — and Lombard figures to go in this area. He has the highest universal approval rating of the remaining prep infielders.

Walker Martin, SS, Eaton HS (Colorado)

The Astros have been tied to Martin, Stafura and North Carolina 3B Mac Horvath (likely available at their next pick). Martin and Stafura are risky upside types who’ve seen a variety of takes on their ability, so pairing that pick with a 22-year-old proven college performer in Horvath matches well with the Astros’ plan.

Here are my picks for No. 29 through 40, with my takes on the Mets’ and Dodgers’ first picks, both of which slid down 10 spots because of luxury tax spending.

29. Mariners: Kevin McGonigle, SS, Monsignor Bonner HS (Pennsylvania)
30. Mariners: Brock Wilken, 3B, Wake Forest
31. Rays: Tai Peete, SS, Trinity Christian HS (Georgia)

Josh Knoth, RHP, Patchogue-Medford HS (New York)

Knoth is from Long Island and has arguably the best raw stuff in the draft behind Skenes. On the right day, he’ll sit in the mid-90s and flip in a hellacious 3,000-rpm breaker that some hang a 70 grade on. I think the Mets want to be bold with this pick (and I think their dream of Morales is looking less likely), so jumping the rush on prep pitching makes some sense.

33. Brewers: Colt Emerson, SS, Glenn HS (Ohio)
34. Twins: Steven Echavarria, RHP, Millburn HS (New Jersey)
35. Marlins: Joe Whitman, LHP, Kent State

Jonny Farmelo, CF, Westfield HS (Virginia)

Farmelo fits the Dodgers to a T: He’s the sort of smooth hit-power combo with a feel for the game whom they excel at developing, particularly in tapping into a player’s power.

37. Tigers: Adrian Santana, SS, Doral Academy HS (Florida)
38. Reds: Charlee Soto, RHP, Reborn Christian HS (Florida)
39. Athletics: Jack Hurley, CF, Virginia Tech
40. Nationals: Brandon Sproat, RHP, Florida

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